Jim Muhr was drafted into the Army when the U.S. was first pouring thousands of military personnel into Vietnam. It was September 1965, and he was 21.
On March 8, 1965, two battalions of about 3,500 Marines waded ashore on Red Beach 2 — becoming the first American combat troops deployed to Vietnam. In the ensuing months, thousands more combat forces followed, making 1965 the year the United States transformed the Vietnam conflict into an American war.
Muhr recently shared his story of service in honor of Veterans Day. He is one of nearly 2,000 local veterans who call the Rim Country home.
Muhr’s basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. “About halfway through, I and three other guys were called into the captain’s office. We were told our test scores were so good we could go into officer candidate’s school (OCS). Well, we all knew we’d be going to Vietnam and I knew I’d rather tell people what to do than be told what to do,” he said.
So, he elected to go to OCS, but first he had to finish basic training and then advanced individual training. That took about 16 weeks, after which he reported to his OCS at Fort Benning, Ga. Training there was six months. There were 167 graduates in his class and he was ranked eighth. “That was a pretty high honor and I was put in charge of the 2nd Platoon and carried a saber in the graduation parade, executing commands with it.” Unfortunately, he did not get to keep the saber.
Following graduation, Muhr was sent to a duty station in Fort Gordon, Ga. “Every graduate is assigned a duty station to get used to being in command. I was the training officer for basic training.” That assignment was for another eight weeks. Afterward, in June 1967, he received his orders to go to Vietnam. His assignment was with a mechanized unit (armored personnel carriers) and his friend was assigned to the infantry. His friend really wanted the mechanized unit assignment and asked Muhr to switch with him. Muhr agreed and so did the assigning officer, who told Muhr to come back the next morning.
“I went in and was told I’d be helping develop a new infantry unit for security of high target areas in Saigon. I was very lucky.”
It had about 120 assigned to it and they were to provide security in Saigon at hotels and other places U.S. military might congregate.
“I thought it would be easy, but there wasn’t time for anything but work,” he said — he put in 18- to 20-hour days.
He first saw combat at his next assignment, providing security for the Long Binh Ammo Depot.
“The enemy had been probing the fence line and on Thanksgiving 1967 did a full scale attack, starting about midnight and lasting until 3 or 4 in the morning. We kept them out, but they launched attacks on the weapons pods. We were very lucky none of them exploded.”
Muhr was transferred in January 1968 to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regimen, 25th Infantry Division. His assignment was to serve as platoon leader for Alpha Company.
“I consider it one of the highest privileges of my life to have led men into combat. You have multiple responsibilities: keep your men and yourself safe; do your job; and eliminate your enemy. I was very good at both.”
The deadly Tet Offensive started in late January 1968. “The entire country exploded. They attacked the entire U.S. force,” Muhr said. Every day they were in firefights. Two he remembers especially vividly — the Hoc Mon Ambush and the one where he was wounded.
The Hoc Mon Ambush was March 2, 1968, and 48 U.S. military personnel were killed and 33 wounded, out of about 100 men.
Muhr and his men had been in a firefight from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., March 1, 1968. They returned to their base between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. About 3 a.m., he was called in to his superior’s tent and told since he and his men could not collect their pay — which was distributed on March 1 — they would stand down March 2 and be in reserve.
Orders to stand down over pay were not unusual, Muhr said. But because of those orders, it probably saved his life. He was to have taken the first lead element into the Hoc Mon area.
Luck was a little sketchier on March 10, 1968. He and his men were asked to help in a firefight. Going in, he was wounded by grenade shrapnel that morning. He combined the platoons and they were in the firefight most of the day. “Around 1 p.m. we started going up against enemy bunkers, taking them out. At about 2:30 p.m. I was shot in the left shoulder and it came out my back, just missing my spine.”
His men thought he was dead, he said he could hear them saying the lieutenant was dead.
“As soon as I regained consciousness I asked how many we lost,” he said.
None of his men were killed. “I never lost a man under my command and I feel really good about that.”
He was “dusted off” (air lifted) to Tay Ninh base camp, where he was told they could do nothing for him. From there they sent him to a major MASH unit in Long Binh. He was there for two days to stabilize and next went by a C-147 to Yokohama, Japan to the 106th Medical Hospital for surgery.
He was in Japan for about a month before shipping home to Fort Bliss hospital in El Paso, Texas, where he learned to reuse his arm.
For his service, Muhr was presented with the Silver Star. In announcing the award, it was stated, “For gallantry in action: 1st Lt. Muhr distinguished himself by heroic action on 10 March 1968, while serving as a platoon leader with Company A, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry on a combat operation in the Republic of Vietnam. When a friendly platoon sustained four casualties, including the platoon leader, Lt. Muhr directed the evacuation of wounded men and reinforced the unit with his own men. After repulsing an enemy attack he led his men in an assault on 10 enemy bunkers and although wounded, continued his attack until the enemy positions were overrun. While directing his men in another assault on additional hostile positions he was again seriously wounded and medically evacuated. His valorous actions were responsible for the successful completion of the mission the defeat of the enemy force. Lt. Muhr’s personal bravery, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, the 25th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”
Muhr is also the recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart, along with numerous other medals and decorations for his service.
After he was released from care, he was assigned as an adviser to reserves in California.
It was in California, August 1968, he and Linda were married. They had met in church when she was 13 and he was 15.
“We were really good friends, but never dated until she was 18,” he said.
They have one son, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter who live in California.
Muhr was discharged in December 1968. That discharge was not the end of his service, though. Since moving to Payson in 2005, Muhr proudly claims the title of community activist. He has served his fellow veterans on many levels; he has served and continues to serve the county in multiple ways; and he has involved himself in the town in many capacities.
Muhr and his wife came to Payson to be closer to his mother and his sister and her family. His family had moved here in 1985 from Phoenix and the couple visited regularly from California. He said in those early days, his mother said, “Jimmy, you should buy some property here and build a retirement home.”
Today he says he really should have taken her advice … but retirement was 20 years away then.
He was working in the corporate world, then retired from it in 1988 and started his own business.
Muhr’s business was the first to do spray-on bed liners in Los Angeles County. It also used the process on buildings and rehabilitating manholes.
Between leaving the corporate world and getting his business off the ground, Muhr was asked by one of the corporation’s clients to help turn a subsidiary around. The effort was successful and the contacts he made eventually involved him in building Titan rockets. The liquid used for his company’s spray-on bed liners was adapted for “race way panels” — these are the panels that hold the rocket’s interior wiring, etc. in place during a launch.
Work for veterans
“I had been involved with the VA due to my wounds, traveling to Prescott for PTSD counseling. I looked around here and found there was a huge absence of things for veterans to do. There was the VFW and American Legion, and I joined both of those.”
He had an issue with the VA canceling his counseling sessions and not calling, sometimes he’d even show up and be told at the desk his appointment was canceled.
Muhr thought there was no reason there couldn’t be a PTSD counseling group in Payson. The VA told him he had to have five people participate in an initial meeting. The five showed up and the VA said they’d continue the counseling and asked if there were more veterans that needed the help.
“I was lifting up rocks. But veterans take a lot of pride in their service and often wear their service caps. So when I saw somebody in a service cap, I’d go up to them and visit and let them know about the counseling. From that first five, I think there have been 150 through to date. That makes me feel good.”
Muhr helped to organize the Payson Veterans Advocacy Committee. It has helped veterans make disability claims, work through the red tape with VA hospitals, met with VA leaders to let them know what is needed by Rim Country veterans, and arranged about 10 veterans town halls. Leaders from the VA in Arizona, the state’s veterans’ services office, and even representatives from the area’s congressmen have attended to hear concerns and questions from veterans firsthand. There are always dozens of staff at the events to help address issues on the spot.
The visibility these efforts have created led a woman to contact him about a fifth-wheel she was willing to give for housing a homeless veteran (and their family). Muhr and others working with him collected the fifth-wheel, set it up and found a veteran who had been sleeping in a storage shed. Recently he decided to move to Oklahoma, so returned the trailer to be given to another homeless veteran. He said if someone knows of a veteran in need of shelter, they could call Bud Huffman at 951-500-2127.
A lot of veterans are stepping up to take over some of Muhr’s many responsibilities. One of these is Shaggy with the reorganized Veterans Helping Veterans. To learn what’s available, call him at 928-978-9924.
Muhr has not relinquished all his work for veterans. He has been asked by District 3 Gila County Supervisor Woody Cline to help create a veterans service center in Young at the old Pleasant Valley Ranger Station.
He also participates in the Payson Military Honor Guard, which provides services for funerals of veterans and gives programs at schools. Veterans Day 2020, Muhr and the other members of the Payson Military Honor Guard were at Payson High School for a program.
In addition to helping Cline with the Pleasant Valley Ranger Station project, Muhr was asked by District 1 Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin to serve on the redistricting committee after the 2010 Census.
He recently was appointed to the Gila County Planning & Zoning Commission.
“I love Payson, love it. It’s a great town and I want to make sure it stays a great town,” he said.
To that end, Muhr ran for and was elected to the board of directors for the Northern Gila County Sanitary District. He chairs the Green Valley Parkway Extension group.
Muhr is also politically active. He was president of the Payson Tea Party for three years; chaired the committee for Suzi Tubbs-Avakian’s write-in campaign for the Payson Town Council and Janell Sterner’s initial run for the council. He said he was also involved as a consultant for both of Tom Morrissey’s mayoral campaigns.
He says he’s stepping back some now, but he is still committed to another two years of service to the sanitary district and the county’s P&Z Commission. Being on the ground floor of the Pleasant Valley project with Cline also sounds like a long-term commitment.
Muhr was drafted into service at 21 and remains a man of service today.
He is just one of many Rim Country veterans to honor this week and throughout the year.